Legal cannabis has had a bumpy journey in Australia. It was first outlawed in 1928, when Australia signed the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and other Drugs. It was at that time that cannabis was grouped in to the same category as morphine, cocaine and heroin, a group it does not deserve to belong to. The move made cannabis illegal except for scientific and trial medical use. In practical terms, marijuana became extremely difficult to obtain for any legal purpose and the situation has remained that way since.
As the law stands today, medical marijuana is legal for medical use, following a change in federal law. State governments being given the final say as to the legal details they want to impose on their residents.
FACTAustralians are the world’s largest users of recreational marijuana.
But Australians are the world’s largest users of recreational marijuana as a proportion of population. Despite this, legal recreational cannabis use is thought to be potentially 5 years away, by those observers prepared to estimate how long it will take Australia to catch up to some of the trends evident in other parts of the world. Some groups like Drug Free Australia are adamant they will fight legalizing cannabis until the end. To some, it appears that legalization is ultimately inevitable. If legal recreational cannabis does come to Australia, it will require the development of sensible regulations, designed to control and protect people, especially young people’s health and well being.
The current state of Australian Institutional Thinking On Marijuana
- Australia is often a leader but for now, we appear to be behind world trends:
Australia is often a trend setter, when it comes to the evolution of public thinking around ‘moral issues.’ Gay rights and same sex marriage issues, are one area which has demonstrated material progress in the last few years. It appears we’re a bit behind the rest of the world, especially the USA, when it comes to legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes.
- Government apathy:
The issue is not part of broad public discussion which is the target of government focus at the moment – notably different to same sex marriage. In fact, it seems it is the more conservative parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party that seem to have the average Australians interest at heart, are doing more to advance the availability and the legalization of recreational cannabis.
- Australia and hemp seeds:
Australia has only just allowed the use of hemp seed and oil in foods. This ‘super food’ was illegal in both New Zealand and Australia until April 2017. This is despite the fact that it is so low in THC that a person could not get high using it, and despite the known nutritional and health benefits associated with the plant’s use.
The Driver – Australia Has One Of The World’s Highest Levels of Marijuana Use
FACTMore people now support the legalization of marijuana in Australia than oppose it.
- Changing Public Perception:
The major factor likely to lead to the legalization of cannabis for Australians is how the public perceives the situation. In a landmark study conducted by the Australian National University, there was a rapid mindset change between 2013 and 2016. As of 2016, 43% of Australians supported legalization. Only 32% were against it. 22% were undecided. Extending the line as a rough estimate of how long it would take to get to a majority of Australians supporting the cause, we see that it could be as early as 2019 that the numbers move in favour of the proposition among a majority.
- 5.8Million users:
About one third of all Australians over the age of 14, have tried cannabis. 1 million of those have used in the last year, over 750,000 use cannabis every week and as many as 300,000 people use it every day.
- Indigenous Australians:
The Aboriginal Research study of 2002 found that 67% of Indigenous males and 22% of Indigenous females aged 13 to 36 were using cannabis regularly. Another study from James Cook University found up to 70 percent of the people in many remote Indigenous communities, including young children, use marijuana. Cannabis as a leading abuse, substance has taken over from petrol sniffing, which was widespread in Indigenous communities throughout Australia
Factors To Consider
- Rewriting the laws:
The Australian government has so many laws regarding cannabis, updating them is going to be tricky. Casey Isaacs at Caldicott Lawyers suggests it will affect many provisions of the sentencing act and require a total rethink of many criminal laws.
- Overcoming restrictive Licensing demands:
Marijuana suffers from restrictive and convoluted licensing demands, even for the provision of legitimate medical marijuana. Those proposing to make, distribute, sell or prescribe the product are subject to strongesnt security, licensing and privacy requirements, along with substantial finance requirements. This is one of the factors which has resulted in the the medical profession in general, being hesitant to use cannabis. The rules are also hampering many company’s progress in developing the cannabis industry.
Most of Australia’s largest cannabis companies are be at least a year from being able to produce a commercial crop.
- We have helpful cannabis detection facilities other coutries don’t:
On the other hand, Australia is one of the few places in the world that has saliva testing which can identify cannabis use. The tests are employed for some sports, workplace and, of course, by the police to detect driving offenses. There are so many cannabis drug laws interwoven with other laws, many lawyers suggest unwinding the illegality of marijuana here will take a concerted effort.
How we’d get from here to legalized cannabis
There appears to be a level of consistency, in other territories, in the path which leads to the legalization of recreational cannabis.
First, as has already happened in Australia, the door is opened through the acceptance of the value of cannabis for medical reasons.
Second, public sentiment changes over time with an increasing proportion of the population supporting legalization for recreational purposes. The debate is informed by discussion of the negative effects of such a popular drug being illegal, including the disproportionately negative results to some social groups.
Finally, politicians take up the cause, representing their constituent’s desires, often ensuring that positive social effects of cannabis legislation provide a measurable benefit. We saw this in Colorado where tax receipts from marijuana sales are directly funneled to the building of schools and other educational purposes.
Working through the prcess will take time. First, a concerted public opinion must form of its own accord. Until a majority of Australians want to legalise recreational cannabis, things will stay as they are. As we’ve seen, however, with current black market use so prevalent in the country, and facilities for eliminating some of the negative consequences such as the ability to test drivers’ THC levels, in some ways, while the domino of legalization may waver for longer in Australia before falling, it’s practical implementation may take less time.